Category Archives: News

Trump’s travel ban: Explained

President Donald Trump has issued an executive order halting all refugee admissions for four months, barred Syrian refugees until further notice and blocking citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days. The executive order has already caused significant controversy, has caused chaos on America’s immigration system only days after being implemented and provoked international condemnation and protest. So what exactly is included in the executive order, how is it being enforced and what questions has the order left?

KEY POINTS OF THE EXECUTIVE ORDER

  • Suspension of the US’ refugee programme for 90 days
  • Indefinite ban on refugees from Syria
  • 90-day suspension on anyone entering the United States from the following countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen (with exemptions for diplomats and the UN)
  • Cap on 50,000 refugees to be allowed into the US this year, less than half the total set by former President Obama

WHY HAS THIS BEEN INTRODUCED?

Donald Trump was elected on an anti-immigration ticket, claiming that the immigration system under the Obama administration did not sufficiently protect America from potential terrorists. The strict implementations have been imposed whilst the Trump administration determines how to implement so-called ‘extreme vetting’ procedures. Trump has stood firm on the order, despite the controversy surrounding it, saying it will ‘keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the US’.

WHO IS AFFECTED?

The order itself covered all people with a visa from the seven Middle Eastern and North African nations listed, including ‘green card’ holders who already had permission to be in the United States. This meant if they were to leave the US, they would be unable to return. However, the Department of Homeland Security has tried to reassure these people that these people would be allowed to re-enter the United States in such circumstances. However, a whole host of people from all walks of life have also had their ability to freely travel in and out of the US restricted, although border officials could allow them to return on a case by case basis. For refugees, preference is being given to Christians over Muslims as part of the order.

WHY THOSE COUNTRIES?

The seven countries listed in the executive order were chosen as they were already listed on as ‘countries of concern’ in a law passed by a Republican-led Congress in 2015, which altered the nation’s visa admissions programme. However, the ban does not include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt or Lebanon, which were the countries of origin for the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks.

IS IT LEGAL?

At the time of writing, this is unclear and Trump recently fired his Attorney General, Sally Yates, for questioning the legality of his executive order.

Opponents of the ban have said that the executive order violates the United States constitution. They have claimed that the order’s preferential treatment of Christian refugees and targeting of those of a Muslim faith amounts to the establishment of a state religion – a move prohibited by the First Amendment, which allows freedom of religion. in addition, they have said that both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which guarantee rights to due process, have been breached through the order’s denial of entry for people with valid visas.

The order does cite a federal immigration law from 1952, which gave the President the power to suspend the entry ‘of all aliens or any class of aliens’ into the United States when the President deems it detrimental to the country’s interests. However, a revision of the same law 13 years later states that people cannot be discriminated against being issued an immigrant visa based on ‘race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence’.

Already, judges in four states have granted requests by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for temporary injunctions to prohibit the deportation of people detained at US airports.

The United Nations have also claimed that the ban is illegal under international law.

However, it will likely be up to the Supreme Court of the United States to have the final say on whether the order is constitutional or not.

DIDN’T OBAMA TAKE A SIMILAR MEASURE?

In 2011, then-President Obama called a hiatus on accepting refugees from Iraq for six months, after two al-Qaeda terrorists from the country were found living as refugees in Kentucky. However, Obama’s order was much narrower in focus and did not apply to green card holders or those who had already been through the vetting process.

In addition, the Obama administration was reacting to a specific threat at the time and only took such action against one country (with some Iraqi refugees who had gone through the vetting process still being allowed to enter the country). In contrast, Trump’s executive order outright prohibits over 130 million people across seven countries from entering the United States, regardless of whether they have gone through the vetting process or not.

In short, these are not comparable.

WORLD REACTION

  • United Nations – “We strongly believe that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race.”
  • United Kingdom – “We will protect the rights and freedoms of UK nationals home and abroad. Divisive and wrong to stigmatise because of nationality.” (Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson)
  • Canada – “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” (Justin Trudeau)
  • Germany – “The necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify putting people of a specific background or faith under general suspicion.” (spokesperson for Angela Merkel)
  • Iran –  “[The order] will be recorded in history as a great gift to extremists and their supporters.” (Foreign Minister Javad Zarif)
  • Czech Republic – “US President Trump protects his country, he’s concerned with the safety of his citizens. Exactly what EU elites do not do.” (President Milos Zeman)
  • Amnesty International – “President Trump’s Executive Order effectively blocking those fleeing war and persecution from war-torn countries such as Syria, from seeking safe haven in the USA are an appalling move with potentially catastrophic consequences.”

President Trump – Day One

Later today, the eyes of the world will be on Washington DC, as Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Mr Trump has already announced many plans to be enacted on day one of his presidency to ‘restore [American] laws and bring back [American] jobs’. Here is what to expect…

TRADE

Donald Trump has announced that, on day one, the United States will withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and announce its intention to renegotiate NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) or withdraw completely. He also will signal to his Secretary to the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to label China as a currency manipulator.

IMMIGRATION

Within the first 24 hours of Trump’s presidency, authorities will begin removing over two million illegal immigrants from the United States, cancelling visas to nations that refuse to take the immigrants back. The US will also suspend immigration from ‘terror-prone’ regions where vetting cannot safely take place. Abuses of visa programmes will also be investigated.

ENERGY

Trump’s administration plan on cancelling ‘job-killing’ restrictions on American energy on day one, including shale gas and clean coal, to create jobs. They also plan on lifting Obama’s ‘roadblocks’ and allow energy projects, such as the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward.

GOVERNMENT

After being inaugurated, Trump is expected to repeal every ‘unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order’ issued during the Obama administration. He will also introduce legislation to reduce regulation – under the proposal, each new regulation will require two old regulations to be eliminated in its place. Trump is likely to also implement a hiring freeze of all civilian federal agencies (excluding the military and agencies related to public health and safety) to reduce the federal workforce over time.

‘DRAINING THE SWAMP’

The campaign pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ will begin on day one, with a five-year ban on executive officials becoming lobbyists after leaving office, a lifetime ban on executive officials lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, and a ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections. Trump’s administration will also introduce term limits on all members of Congress.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The United States will cancel billions of dollars in payments to the United Nations’ climate change programmes on day one of Trump’s presidency. The money will be instead invested in water and environmental infrastructure.

…and three acts coming in his first 100 days in office

MIDDLE CLASS TAX RELIEF AND SIMPLIFICATION ACT

Trump hopes that his plan to boost the economy through tax reduction and simplication, regulatory relief, trade reform and lifting restrictions on the energy industry will lead to 4% growth per year and create more than 25 million new jobs. Under the proposed act, the number of tax brackets would shrink from seven to three and the business tax rate would be slashed from 35% to 15%.

REPEAL AND REPLACE OBAMACARE ACT

A dream of Republicans for many years, Trump plans on repealing and replacing Obamacare within his first 100 days. It will be replaced with Health Savings Accounts, the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines and the ability for states to manage their own Medicaid funds. The act will also cut ‘red tape’ at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to speed the approval of new life-saving drugs.

END ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION ACT

Another one of Trump’s campaign promises, this act will fully fund the construction of a barrier along the border with Mexico ‘with the full understanding that Mexico will be reimbursing the full cost’. It will also introduce a two-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for those caught illegally re-entering the country after a previous deportation, and a five-year mandatory minimum for those caught illegally re-entering with felony convictions, multiple misdemeanour convictions or two or more deportations from the United States. Also included in the proposed act will be reform to visa rules to enhance penalties for overstaying and to put American workers first.

Northern Ireland Political Crisis: Explained

Today, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire called an election for the Northern Irish Assembly to be held on March 2nd, just ten months after the last vote took place. This follows a scandal involving the First Minister’s involvement in a controversial renewable heating scheme that has cost taxpayers £500m.

Here’s an explanation of how we got here…

THE ASSEMBLY

Unlike the Parliament in Westminister, Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly at Stormont has a power-sharing government, requiring unionists and nationalists to work together. This arrangement derives from the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which attempted to end some of the political turmoil in the region over the decades. Under the system, a First Minister and Deputy First Minister are appointed from the largest unionist and nationalist party and together they lead the executive. They both have equal authority and one cannot work without the other.

As a devolved authority, Stormont has control over agriculture, healthcare, transport, education, policing, justice, among other issues. Elections to the 108-seat Assembly use the single-transferable vote.

Until last week, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster was First Minister and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness was Deputy First Minister.

The current political makeup of the Assembly is:

  • Democratic Unionist Party (37 – unionist)
  • Sinn Fein (28 – nationalist)
  • Ulster Unionist Party (16 – unionist)
  • Social Democratic and Labour Party (12 – nationalist)
  • Alliance (8)
  • Green (2)
  • People Before Profit Alliance (2)
  • Independent (2 – both unionist)
  • Traditional Unionist Voice (1 – unionist)

WHAT IS THE RENEWABLE HEAT INCENTIVE SCHEME?

In November 2012, the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (RHI) was set up as part of Northern Ireland’s plans to make 4% of heat come from renewables by 2015, reaching 10% by the end of the decade. The scheme offered financial incentives for businesses and other non-domestic users to install renewable heat systems, including biomass boilers and solar thermal and heat pumps.

The scheme was assigned £25 million for 2012-15, and in 2014-15, the department in fact underspent by £15 million due a lack of interest. However, applications increased significantly in April 2015 and almost 1,000 applications were received in three months, after plans were announced to cut the subsidy.

In February last year, the scheme closed amid a ‘significant financial risk to Northern Ireland block grant for the next 20 years’ and an investigation into the scheme got underway. It was revealed that the scheme had been exploited as there was no upper limit for the amount of energy that would be paid for, with claims that one farmer was aiming to claim £1 million over two decades for heating an empty shed. The scheme is projected to run £490 million overbudget.

The current DUP leader and Northern Irish First Minister Arlene Foster was the minister in charge of the scheme when it was set up, with a whistleblower allegedly warning Foster about the potential for fraud under the scheme. However, she refused calls by Sinn Fein, the UUP and SDLP to resign while investigations are underway.

MCGUINNESS RESIGNS

Last Monday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned in protest over the RHI and other issues. In his resignation letter, McGuinness also cited the Brexit vote, the DUP’s veto over legalising same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland and the withdrawal of funding of an Irish language scheme as other reasons behind his decision to quit.

Sinn Fein had one week to replace McGuinness, but refused. Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister and Sinn Fein MLA, said last week the DUP have disrespected the Northern Irish people with corruption in government, as well as through their attitudes towards equality for women and the LGBT community. In Stormont today, she said:

ELECTION CALLED

After negotiations to appoint a new Deputy First Minister failed, the Northern Ireland Secretary was bound by law to call an election, which he announced will be held in six weeks time on Thursday, March 2nd.

The Assembly will sit for the last time before the election next Wednesday, before being dissolved the following day. After that, campaigning will begin.

 

 

South Sudan Civil War: Explained

In the midst of the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq and the crisis in Yemen, a civil war in the world’s newest country has been escalating outside of the media’s eye, with the UN warning last month that it could result in a genocide similar to that of Rwanda.

Since it broke out in December 2013, the conflict has already claimed 50,000 lives, left 2.3 million displaced and 6 million malnourished.

BACKGROUND

South Sudan has had a troubled past, with a long history of conflict. After Sudan’s independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956, citizens in the predominantly Christian south of the country objected to being ruled by the predominantly Muslim north. The 60 different ethnic groups in southern Sudan (mostly) put aside their differences to fight against the Sudanese government and to achieve independence. This sparked the 16-year long First Sudanese Civil War, which claimed 400,000 lives. A peace agreement was made in 1972, where the southern portion of Sudan was granted religious and cultural autonomy to the south.

However, the agreement was short-lived as President Nimeiry declared all of Sudan an Islamic state and terminated the autonomy of the south in 1983. What followed was one of the longest civil wars in history, lasting 22 years and leading to the deaths of two million from the conflict, as well as famine and disease.

A peace agreement to the Second Sudanese Civil War was reached in 2005, which granted southern Sudan to autonomy for six years, followed by a referendum on independence. In January 2011, southern Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence (with 98.83% in favour), and the Republic of South Sudan became the world’s youngest nation seven months later.

POST-INDEPENDENCE

Upon independence, Salva Kiir Mayardit, the President of the region whilst under Sudanese rule, became the President of the new republic. Kiir is a Dinka, the largest ethnic group in South Sudan, making up almost 36% of the population. In an act of unity, he appointed Riek Machar as Vice-President, who is a Nuer (South Sudan’s other dominant ethnic group, which makes up roughly 16% of the population). However, Kiir put warlords in top positions in the South Sudanese cabinet; in one such case, he put a revolutionary commander as Minister of Peace.

With the international community leaving South Sudan to govern themselves, old tensions flared up. In July 2013, Kiir sacked the entire cabinet under the pretext of reducing the size of government. However, Machar claimed that this was a move towards dictatorship and announced plans to challenge Kiir to the presidency in the 2015 elections. Kiir then later Kiir admitted that the next election would have to be delayed, seen as an attempt to cling on to power.

In December 2013, forces loyal to Machar clashed with government forces loyal to Kiir. Both sides exploited the ethnic divides in South Sudan to mobilise more troops, with more than 1,000 people killed within the first week of fighting alone.

2015 PEACE DEAL

By August 2015, the civil war had evolved into an ethnic conflict between the Dinka and the Nuer, a war which had killed tens of thousands of people. With the help of the African Union’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a peace agreement was reached to allow Machar to return to his post as Vice-President. Fearing for his life, Machar brought his fighters to protect him as he returned to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, last year to resume his role as VP, resulting in another clash between both sides and Machar fleeing the capital.

Meanwhile, just months after the peace deal was reached, Kiir sparked a conflict with one of the country’s other ethnic groups, the Equatorians, by redrawing the country’s internal boundaries. Seen as a land grab by the Dinka by the Equatorians, they took up arms and promised revenge against the group.

In addition, intervention by neighbouring countries, including Sudan and Uganda, as well as the flow of weapons into the conflict by China, have exasperated the conflict and led to more bloodshed.

UN VISIT NOVEMBER 2016

“Aid workers describe gang rape as so prevalent that it’s become ‘normal’ in this warped environment.”

Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

In November, UN officials visited South Sudan and warned that ‘the stage is being set for a repeat of what happened in Rwanda’, where up to a million people died in a genocide that was ignored by the international community.

Yasmin Sooka, chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said: “There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages. Aid workers describe gang rape as so prevalent that it’s become ‘normal’ in this warped environment.”

The UN Commission also heard accounts of corpses being found along main roads, mass starvation, people fleeing the country, and a majority of the nation’s schools being shut due to the conflict.

Another of the commissioners, Ken Scott, reported: “Large parts of the country literally have no functioning courts and even the traditional reconciliation methods are now breaking down with the result that it’s a free for all.”

Although the UN have called upon the international community to intervene, no country has been willing to get involved in such a proposal. The United States, however, did propose an arms embargo on South Sudan to block weapons entering the conflict, but this failed last month after too many Security Council nations, including Russia and China, abstained on the proposal.

WHAT NEXT?

With both President Obama of the United States and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon both reaching the end of their time in office, it is increasingly unlikely that a peaceful solution to the conflict will be addressed in the near future. President-elect Trump has not signalled any interest or even knowledge of the ongoing civil war, let alone a willingness to end the bloodshed.

In 1994, the world pledged to never let a genocide like that of Rwanda happen again. However, with some of the most powerful nations opting against intervention in foreign affairs, it seems that the international community is set to repeat one of the gravest mistakes of the 20th century.